Simcha Fisher’s Science Post: the Gift that Keeps On Giving!

As first mentioned in a post here. I make the distinction between using a practical approach to evaluating scientific claims – namely, deciding who you trust – to using a philosophical approach – namely, analyzing first if the what is being claimed can even in theory be known via the methods of science, and second, if so, what steps would need to be taken to obtain that knowledge. If it can’t be known via science (e.g., what ought to be done) or the steps needed to know it have not been taken, we owe the claim no allegiance, no matter how qualified and trustworthy the people making the claims are.  My approach eliminates from serious consideration about 90% of what is popularly presented as science (instead, it’s Science!, that brand of popular voodoo used by our betters to impress us peons and keep us in line.)

There can be a huge overlap in these methods, but they are fundamentally different. Used well, they should reach about the same conclusions. At least, that’s the idea.

Now, due at least in part to activity in the comboxes involving Simcha and Stacy Trasancos in the controversy over claims that vaccines that use stem cells from aborted babies cause autism, Dr. Trasancos has asked Dr. Briggs to weigh in on the subject: 

Stacy Trasancos asked me to review her post “Why Are Catholics Criticizing Dr. Theresa Deisher?“, and in particular the paper “Impact of environmental factors on the prevalence of autistic disorder after 1979″ in Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology by Theresa A. Deisher and four others (Trasancos has links to all the material).

The Statistician to the Stars (SttS from now on) is a brilliant practitioner of the Philosophical approach. While not uninterested in the researcher’s qualifications to do the research, such considerations are rarely enough to determine anything. Instead, he starts with definitions (making the baby Aquinas smile) and then works through *precisely* what is being asserted and *precisely* what steps were taken to reach the conclusion. Then he evaluates if such steps are adequate for the claims made, and then, as a bonus, what steps one would need to have taken in order to support the claims made.

It’s a thing of beauty.

It is Deisher’s (implied) claim that vaccines created (in part) with stem cells “harvested” from the human beings killed for being inconveniences to their mothers are causing an increase in the rate of autism.

OK, that’s a big deal. So break it down, SttS:

There are several matters of interest people are having a difficult time keeping straight. Here’s a list:

  1. Whether it is, or under what circumstances it is, ethical to kill human beings still living inside their mothers.

  2. Whether it is ethical to use the tissue from these killed human beings, considering this tissue might lead to more efficacious or cheaper vaccines (which will surely save lives).

  3. Whether these vaccines might cause any form of autism.

  4. If so, how likely is it to contract some form of autism from these vaccines.

  5. Whether it is ethical for Deisher to investigate these claims, given that she might personally benefit (monetarily or spiritually or whatever) from identifying this cause of autism.

  6. Whether Deisher is a liar, cheat, or a fraud.

That about sums it up. SttS remarks that 1 & 2 are outside the range of this discussion, that the answer to 5 is ‘Yes’, and 6 is ‘No’. The bulk of his post therefore concerns 3 & 4. Rather than just cutting and pasting the whole post, go there! Read it! 

So, to sum up the results of the Philosophical Approach to this issue:

1. Yes, the methods of science are in theory adequate to determining this issue;

2. The steps needed have not yet been taken.

What are those steps?

Deisher nowhere measured which vaccines each child received and which child developed autism, which is the only way to demonstrate potential causality. She only (crudely, too) measured various rates of diagnoses. To conclude the changes in these rates must be from the one cause she posited is to commit the epidemiologist fallacy.


Obviously, experiments cannot be run on children to see which vaccines might cause which disease. But vastly superior epidemiology can be performed. Specific records on children (including medical history, genetics, etc.) can be kept, tracking when and what kind of vaccines, and so forth. And because this has become a public concern, such things are being done.


I am (often painfully) aware that I do not think like most people. Perhaps for most people, the practical approach – reasonably deciding who to trust – is better or at least more achievable. It’s true that you don’t need to know anything at all about science to use it. But I’ll stick to the philosophical approach, because I do know a little bit about science, and it seems to give better results.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

6 thoughts on “Simcha Fisher’s Science Post: the Gift that Keeps On Giving!”

  1. “I do know a little bit about science …”

    This is off-topic, but I’ve been wanting to ask someone knowledgeable a question about evolution.

    My question is, I don’t understand how can evolution can be considered a testable hypothesis. How do they test it?

    I understand they do lab tests in which fruit flies and bacteria are run through so many generations and see how they evolve. But I’m talking about determining that past generations of species evolved from one species to another.

    I’m probably misunderstanding what they mean by “testable.”

    By the way I’m not hostile to the theory of evolution, in fact lately I’ve become more open to it than I had been for a long time.


    1. Robert Grosseteste said that once a propter quid (read: theory) has been constructed for the quia (read: facts), one should use that theory to predict new facts not used to construct the theory in the first place. Thus, a Ptolemaic model and a Copernican model both predict phases for Venus, but they predict different ranges of phases. When the phases of Venus were finally observed by Lembo, Harriot, Marius, and Galileo (at roughly the same time!) they were compatible with the Copernican model, but not with the Ptolemaic model. They were also compatible with the Tychonic model.

      IOW, the “predictions” need not be about the future, but might as easily be about the present or the past. For example, the theory of common descent (which Darwin preferred to Spencer’s “evolution”) predicted that species sharing a common descent would show “family resemblances.” Later, when genetic analysis became available, they showed precisely this in a way that had not been taken into account in constructing the original theory.

    2. That’s a good question, and there’s no elevator-pitch level answer. The chief issue is: what do you mean? Often, professional biologists are as unclear on what they mean by evolution and natural selection as their goofiest opponents. The wildest claims of all: that evolution is a sort of catch-all explanation for everything we experience, including our own existence, that, by its nature, precludes any other explanations (which in practice means excluding lines of questioning that lie outside the model – this overreach is largely what sets off the Creationist crowd). We’d need to tighten it waaaay down first, before any discussion of falsibility gets raised. Quick stab:

      Natural Selection (the more proper name for the theory itself) is what is really theoretical: it is the story that accounts for the facts, makes predictions, and creates a entire (quasi-metaphysical) level of required assumptions. The coolest ‘proof’ is that, in order for the theory to fly, Darwin needed for there to exist exactly the sort of mechanisms for inheritance that were discovered decades later, and expanded upon greatly in the last century. There needs to be some mechanism by which parents pass on traits to their offspring that can selected against; there needs to be mechanisms that create variabilities and new traits; the behaviors and characteristics of living things need to reflect the properties of these mechanisms.

      And they do. Mendelian Inheritance, genes, genetic mutations – all these things, not known to Darwin but required by his theory, turn out to exist.

      For something as complicated as life, that pretty darn good.

  2. How funny to hear from you, Mr. Flynn. Just yesterday I was referred to your blog (my first time seeing it) by Dr. Feser’s blog and am in the middle of reading your explication of the First Way, which by the way is very entertaining as well as informative.

    Both your answers (Moore’s and Flynn’s) are very helpful. I hadn’t looked at it from that angle before, namely the fact that things, such as genetics, ended up being discovered which were or could have been predicted by the theory. Before, I was only looking at it in terms of finding specific proofs that this species evolved into that one. Now that I do look at it this way, it seems a lot more obvious and easier to understand what people mean when they say that tons of data have been found which support the theory.

    I have friends and family who won’t be happy with my new viewpoint.

    Thanks much.

    1. Try this then:
      “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.”
      — Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3

      IOW, as aside in illustrating an utterly different point, Aquinas thought that new species would emerge naturally from the powers inherent in nature.

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